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Greenhouse gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector: A Life Cycle Assessment

This study assesses the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the global dairy cattle sector. The overall goal of the report is to provide estimates of GHG emissions associated with milk production and processing for main regions and farming systems of the world.

These results will help to inform the public debate on GHG emissions, and will support research, development and extension efforts to improve the sustainability performance of dairy farming.

The specific objective of the study is two-fold:

  • to develop a methodology based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach applicable to the global dairy sector; and
  • to apply this methodology to assess, and provide insights about, GHG emissions from the dairy cattle sector.

The assessment follows up on FAO’s work presented in Livestock’s Long Shadow on livestock’s contribution to GHG emissions, by refining and elaborating on the emission estimates for the dairy cattle sector.

It focuses on the entire dairy food chain, encompassing the life cycle of dairy products from the production and transport of inputs (fertilizer, pesticide, and feed) for dairy farming, transportation of milk off-farm, dairy processing, the production of packages, and the distribution of products to retailers.

Emissions, including those taking place after the farm-gate are all reported in per kg of fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) units at the farm gate.

The study quantifies the major greenhouse gas emissions associated with dairy farming, namely, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and includes all animals related to milked cows, including replacement animals and surplus calves from dairy cows, fattened for their meat.

Contents of this report include details only on emission levels from the global dairy cattle sector. These estimates are based on the best available data as of the time of conducting the research.

This assessment is part of an ongoing research programme to assess the environmental implications of animal food chains, and to analyse and recommend improvement options. The methodology developed will be applied to other livestock species including beef cattle, buffalo, poultry, pigs, and small ruminants.

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